Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder

By Joanne M. Doan | Feb. 27, 2017

 

While no marriage is easy—as evidenced by the 50% failure rate in United States—challenges stack up when a mental health condition is added to the mix. The prospect of dealing with a lifelong, life-threatening condition can be overwhelming.

The diagnosis of bipolar disorder, for example, can test even the strongest of foundations. The unpredictable symptoms and behaviors of a person experiencing bipolar disorder can shake up a relationship and may scare even the most supportive partner. These symptoms can include:

Mania:

  • increased physical and mental activity
  • exaggerated optimism and self-confidence
  • excessive irritability, aggressive behavior
  • decreased need for sleep
  • rapid speech, thought
  • increased sexual behavior and spending
Depression:
  • prolonged sadness
  • changes in appetite and sleep
  • irritability, anger, worry
  • pessimism, loss of energy
  • feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • recurring thoughts of suicide and death

Not surprisingly, communication is essential to supporting your partner and your union. In her marriage, Elizabeth of British Columbia makes a point to talk to her husband about her symptoms at least once a week. “Regular communication is really important,” she stresses. “We talk about what I’m feeling and things that he notices about me.” Experience helps too. You will come to realize the signs of stress, the signals to triggers and when to offer a hug or give space.

Couple’s therapy can be an effective way to develop strategies for coping with the disorder together, says David Miklowitz, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The counseling should help the couple solve problems that arise around the symptoms of bipolar disorder, and learn to communicate effectively about them,” he says.

Further, couples that view bipolar as a brain-based disorder and their partnership as “equal” seem to have the most success. Focusing on shared goals and your commitment to each other helps make your partnership work, and the more both partners know about symptoms, treatments and coping strategies, the more hope there is for recovery and the relationship.

A New Reality

As the loving partner of someone experiencing bipolar disorder, your life will take on a new “normal”—which could possibly consist of taking on increased daily responsibilities. Laurie of San Antonio, Texas remembers the exhaustion of caring for her husband and longing for the day when “someone would take care of me instead of the other way around.” The loss of a life imagined takes time and acceptance.

It can be a day-to-day challenge knowing what to do to support your loved one without being consumed by their depression and mania, says David A. Karp, professor of sociology at Boston College. “Indeed, caring for someone who has a mental illness can be more draining than caring for someone with cancer,” he explains. “They may even feel their own identities are being buried—they are losing themselves or jeopardizing their own health.”

Caring for your own wellness is key. While it can be difficult to master, self-care is essential if you love someone with a brain disorder. Research shows that as a caregiver, you are at increased risk of becoming depressed and having other health problems if you neglect yourself. This means you must make time to restore your energy, reduce stress and deal with feelings like guilt and anger.

“Bipolar is manageable, but it takes work. All loving relationships take work and being with someone [who lives with] bipolar is no different,” adds Glo, from bphope.com. “You still need to take care of yourself. Find a good therapist or support group that will take care of your needs. That is the first step at helping your partner.”
 

 

Joanne M. Doan is the publisher of bp Magazine and esperanza Magazine, both groundbreaking publications dedicated to those living with bipolar, anxiety and depression. In 2016 she received the Folio: Top Women in Media Award in the Entrepreneurs category for meeting the challenges of growing a pioneering publication for this readership. 

Comments
Anne
This article rings so true. I have been married for 40 years to a wonderful man that unfortunately has bipolar. In trying so hard to keep him stable, I have lost my identity, become depressed and because I haven’t taken time to care for myself, I now have a multitude of health problems. I truly don’t know where to find a support group that would help me deal with him.
9/18/2018 5:43:46 PM

Chris
My mother died recently and my beloved bipolar boyfriend blocked my phone when I told him and has been silent for the past 3 months. I'm destroyed
9/8/2018 4:21:46 PM

T
28 years married to a man with BP1. On the brink of divorce. I’m sad, mad. He blames me for his recent hospitalization. Says I’m lying about aggressive and threatening behavior. I can’t take it anymore.
8/16/2018 3:15:21 PM

Dani
Thank you for the article, and thank all of you for the insightful comments. I have a eye old and a hubby with mixed manic episodes. We have been living together for 15 years and married for five and in that time I had my suspicions about a BP disorder which were finally confirmed when he went inpatient late spring. It has been only a few months post discharge. I know he is working so hard to get better and is doing a wonderful job of utilizing his resources. I honestly don't know how I can continue to walk on eggshells especially when dealing with a toddler on top of all of this. I love him dearly and I love our family dearly the last thing I would want to do is ruin our beautiful life. I'm afraid. I will lose my identity as a person to the role of caretaker. All these things I have seen written here have shown me that I am not alone. Thank you.
8/15/2018 1:51:08 PM

Margaret Peters
I have been married 30 years to a bipolar man, I feel like a bystander in my own life, honesty is out of the question, he cannot handle it, and I will be " punished" if he feels an not in agreement with him. I understand this and let it go to keep the peace. Knowing inside myself what is real has to be enough, good luck to all.
8/11/2018 1:58:50 PM

Sherina
This article is the biggest blessing. I have been blaming myself for so much thinking that I have don’t something wrong. Yet to see this article makes me understand him leaving at times and other things. Thank you for this.
8/5/2018 1:39:43 AM

Daylene
I’m wondering where to find a support group in my area. My husband is bipolar and it’s been very difficult and scary.
8/1/2018 8:31:29 PM

Esther
Feeling completely engulfed by my daughters...one bipolar...trying to bridge the gap of understanding both ways. How one doesn't really understand her sisters Illness and how the other doesn't understand how hurtful she can be during an episode. Feel so helpless and hopeless.
6/2/2018 1:53:30 AM

Kenzie
My boyfriend and I have been together a while now and he leaves and comes back he's done that for the past 2 years I always thought it was cause he didn't love me but reading this made me realize that it's hid bipolar acting up and I don't plan on leaving him any time soon I love him to death and this helped me so much thank you so much. The reassurance was nice
6/1/2018 12:00:37 PM

M NASIR IBRAHIM
Thank you for this
4/2/2018 3:14:00 AM

Rob roskoff
On and off with someone who was diagnosed bipolar II. She has come in and out of my life for the past 6 years. To this moment, I thought if I tried harder to work on me that she would love me consistently but as I read this, makes sense that the confused person I’ve become is solely a reaction to her moods..sounds so obvious now after reading this
3/22/2018 7:37:19 PM

Jason
The part about wishing "someone would take care of me instead of the other way around" really hit home for me. I've been dealing with the feeling of losing my identity lately. It's hard not to get so caught up with worrying about your partner and your marriage that you forget to take care of yourself. It's good to hear I'm not the only one dealing with it.
3/8/2018 9:33:09 PM

Anom
I am a 44 yr. old male who think that I may be suffering from this disease, I've been reading some of the post here, and even though I hadn't thought there was much wrong with me, but it's like the comments were directed towards me because it was and still today me, ....
2/1/2018 5:26:20 PM

Lyn
I am in a relationship with a loving man that I believe is bipolar
5/15/2017 1:48:07 PM

Cindy
Trying to work and help my bipolar teen is overwhelming and feels my depressed. Baker Acted and in hospital again due to her suicidal ideation and serious cutting. I hurt for her and I'm so low.
3/18/2017 5:06:50 PM

Margie Rae
She!ly observed that in physical illness people come to the aid in loving support by bring meals, providing company, and asking how they might best be of assistance. Being fortunate in my ability to recognize when I am I'll or spiraling into illness, I can predict my need for help. Unfortunately, if I report being "down" or depressed" the response has been the promise of prayer from a distance, so I have learned to report my metal ills as physical ills, so others will be near to help (ensuring I eat, sleep, am comfortable, and if nothing else providing through their presence, a safe space where no severe harm can be done).
3/16/2017 4:12:31 PM

Lucinda
My husband was diagnosed with bipolar over 30 years ago. I wished I would have had the advice you have given in this blog many years ago. I have not learned to take time for myself and find in the last 3 years I have become depressed. Even trying to take time seems difficult to just do that. When his body aches and he is not taking care of himself it becomes so overwhelming at times. I love him so much.....
3/12/2017 9:21:33 PM

Danny Overstreet
When you do nothing,
You feel like nothing.
When you do something,
You feel like something.
Some days, all I can do is nothing.
3/11/2017 12:04:07 AM

Jackie
I agree with Shelley. It can be so hard when you feel so alone.
3/9/2017 12:05:56 PM

Theresa Morris
I have a dear friend with it. Thank you for sharing.
3/5/2017 7:42:56 PM

M
I love you so much for putting this together. Thank you.
3/2/2017 12:22:29 PM

Linda
Ok
3/1/2017 11:05:06 AM

Linda
This blog is very helpful to me, because I need to be more conscious of how others are affected by my disorder, especially my husband. He's very quiet and not verbally expressive, so I am usually the one that has to initiate any meaningful conversation, but I do try to assess regularly his emotional response to my behaviors, because he gives me know visual clues...he has one expression and it is sad, angry, or annoyed, yet he frequently denies feeling any of these at the time. It's hard to know if he's happy with me or disappointed.
3/1/2017 11:03:31 AM

John Russell Abel
1.There should be a limit of character s.There is too much droning on and on. 2. I spoke to a insurance representative about the travel expenses to Dr.s, pharmacist and a perfectly good mental health group that is free of charge a individual can speak and is monitored not to take over and let others speak. The location has been moved to the other side of town and it would cost me a fortune to hire a taxi. One solution is to have permits or vouchers for public transportation. I could afford the cost until it was moved to the other side of town and grew too large. It seems necessary to create a new group.
2/28/2017 11:23:19 PM

Shelley
The trouble is when your caring for a spouse with cancer people understand and come to your side. They make meals and get you out of the house. It's not always okay to even let friends family or neighbors know what happening let alone have them understand.
2/28/2017 6:27:46 AM

Lizanne Corbit
Wonderfully said. The point that all relationships take work is absolutely true. As is the need for communication. The extra insight and effort to regularly communicate, especially things like triggers is so important. It's a beautiful thing to read about people committing to each other, helping and supporting their partner.
2/27/2017 11:59:10 PM